Edogawa Commemorative Garden: Japanese beauty under southern skies

A little over an hour north of Sydney, on the edge of Caroline Bay, sits a pretty little Japanese garden that has, for the past 30 years, been a delight to locals and tourists alike both for its authenticity and its relaxing atmosphere. The garden commemorates the sister city relationship between Tokyo’s Edogawa-ku and the New South Wales Central Coast city of Gosford. It was designed by Japanese gardeners with expertise in the Heian style of strolling garden perfected some 1,300 years ago.

The garden is accessed through the Gosford Regional Gallery building, which also houses a pleasant little cafe. A winding flagstone path lined with ornamental cherry and maple trees, each a colorful addition in their own season, gives visitors only a little peek at the garden before rounding one last bend in the path to enter the garden, a bilingual sign (with some slightly odd Japanese renditions) providing directions.

A left turn takes visitors to the main part of the garden, which surrounds a sculpted pond that is fed by a burbling waterfall. Instead go straight on to reach the karesansui dry stone garden. Three large black rocks stand as islands in a sea of white pebbles that are painstakingly raked into patterns emulating waves on the sea, even breaking on the shores of the “islands”, which symbolize heaven, earth and man. Three volunteers groom these stones and the rest of the garden every morning to keep it in tip top condition. Stone benches surrounded by neatly trimmed azalea bushes face the karesansui garden, providing a place where visitors can sit quietly contemplating life or seeking zen-like inspiration.

Continue on the path heading in a counter-clockwise circle. On the left is a small grove of black pines, which the top end of the pond is on the right. The top of the pond is fed by a delightful little waterfall called the “Dragon’s Tail Falls”. Watching the water cascade over the rocks, it’s easy to see the derivation of the name. An arched wooden bridge crosses at the bottom of the falls, leading to the rest of the garden.

The top of the pond, below the waterfall, is filled with water plants, with a large stone lantern and several small boulders adding surface texture. A few ducks and colorful koi carp play amid the plants.

The large pavilion that juts over the large, lower end of the pond is aptly named the Koi Pavilion. From here, visitors get the best views of the koi and ducks and, if they’ve purchased food at the reception desk, can feed the critters as well. The large pavilion that juts over the large, lower end of the pond is aptly named the Koi Pavilion. From here, visitors get views across the pond to the teahouse. Perhaps more importantly, this is where they can best see the koi and ducks. If visitors thought to purchase food at the reception desk, they can feed the critters as well. It seems to be the most popular spot in the entire garden.

Another arched bridge spans the narrow point between the upper and lower ponds and leads to the tea house. Resist the temptation to cross it now and instead continue clockwise around the lower part of the pond. A leafy path, dotted with seasonal flowers, leads to the wisteria trellis at the bottom of the pond. In spring this would be filled with drooping bundles of delicately perfumed purple flowers and for most of the rest of the year it is a green arbor. More benches beckon to visitors to tarry and soak up more of the serene ambience of the garden.

As the path continues to curve around the lower end of the garden, a stone lantern and a traditional bamboo water fountain comes into view, and then a wooden gateway, marking the precincts of the tea house.

The so-called tea house is more of a rest house, a spot where visitors can sit and enjoy cool shade on a sunny day and, at any time, can enjoy views of the rest of the garden. The circular window is especially popular for the way it frames the view, although the view is splendid with or without a circular frame.

This garden, although only about an acre in size, exudes such a calm and peaceful air that visitors seem to want to linger. The garden has authentically replicated plenty of small detailed features, such as seasonal flowering plants, stone lanterns, bamboo lattice fences, and carved wooden balustrades, but also successfully integrates plants found in traditional Japanese gardens with Australian native plants and trees, contributing to the enjoyment of garden patrons. On top of its success as an overseas Japanese garden, it is a tribute to a successful sister city relationship.

The Edogawa Commemorative Garden is open daily from 9:30 am to 4:00 pm. Entry is free of charge.

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